A homunculus (Latin for “little man”, plural: “homunculi”) is a representation of a small human being. Popularized in sixteenth century alchemy and nineteenth century fiction, it has historically referred to the creation of a miniature, fully formed human. The concept has roots in preformationism as well as earlier folklore and alchemic traditions.

References to the homunculus do not appear prior to sixteenth century alchemical writings; however alchemists may have been influenced by earlier folk traditions. The mandragora, known in German as Alreona, Alraun or Alraune is one example.

In Liber de imaginibus, Paracelsus however denies that roots shaped like men grow naturally. He attacks dishonest people who carve roots to look like men and sell them as Alraun. He clarifies that the homunculus’ origins are in sperm, and that it is falsely confused with these ideas from necromancy and natural philosophy.

The homunculus has also been compared to the golem of Jewish folklore. Though the specifics outlining the creation of the golem and homunculus are very different, the concepts both metaphorically relate man to the divine, in his construction of life in his own image.

Preformationism, a theory of heredity, claimed that either the egg or the sperm (exactly which was a contentious issue) contained complete preformed individuals called “animalcules”. Development was therefore a matter of enlarging this into a fully formed being. The term homunculus was later used in the discussion of conception and birth.

Nicolas Hartsoeker postulated the existence of animalcules in the semen of humans and other animals. This was the beginning of spermists’ theory, who held the belief that the sperm was in fact a “little man” that was placed inside a woman for growth into a child. This seemed to them to neatly explain many of the mysteries of conception. It was later pointed out that if the sperm was a homunculus, identical in all but size to an adult, then the homunculus may have sperm of its own. This led to a reductio ad absurdum with a chain of homunculi “all the way down”. This was not necessarily considered by spermists a fatal objection however, as it neatly explained how it was that “in Adam” all had sinned: the whole of humanity was already contained in his loins. The spermists’ theory also failed to explain why children tend to resemble their mothers as well as their fathers, though some spermists believed that the growing homunculus assimilated maternal characteristics from the womb environment in which they grew.

Paracelsus (1493–1541) is credited with the first mention of the homunculus in De homunculis (c. 1529-1532). De natura rerum (1537) outlines his method for creating homunculi:

That the sperm of a man be putrefied by itself in a sealed cucurbit for forty days with the highest degree of putrefaction in a horse’s womb, or at least so long that it comes to life and moves itself, and stirs, which is easily observed. After this time, it will look somewhat like a man, but transparent, without a body. If, after this, it be fed wisely with the Arcanum of human blood, and be nourished for up to forty weeks, and be kept in the even heat of the horse’s womb, a living human child grows therefrom, with all its members like another child, which is born of a woman, but much smaller.

Comparisons have been made with several similar concepts in the writings of earlier alchemists. Although the actual word “homunculus” was never used, Carl Jung believed that the concept first appeared in the Visions of Zosimos, written in the third century AD. In the visions, Zosimos encounters a priest who changes into “the opposite of himself, into a mutilated anthroparion”. The Greek word “anthroparion” is similar to “homunculus” – a diminutive form of “man”. Zosimos subsequently encounters other anthroparion in his dream but there is no mention of the creation of artificial life. In his commentary, Jung equates the homunculus with the Philosopher’s Stone, and the “inner man” in parallel with Christ.

Alchemical processes were symbolically illustrated using images of humans and animals inside vessels. This contributed to the legend of the homunculus. (Pretiosissimum Donum Dei 15th century.)

The homunculus continued to appear in alchemical writings after Paracelsus’ time. The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz (1616) for example, concludes with the creation of a male and female form identified as Homunculi duo. The allegorical text suggests to the reader that the ultimate goal of alchemy is not chrysopoeia, but it is instead the artificial generation of man. Here, the creation of homunculi symbolically represents spiritual regeneration and Christian soteriology.

In 1775, Count Johann Ferdinand von Kufstein together with Abbé Geloni, an Italian cleric, are reputed to have created ten homunculi with the ability to foresee the future, which von Kufstein kept in glass containers at his Masonic Lodge in Vienna. Dr. Emil Besetzny’s masonic handbook, Die Sphinx, devoted an entire chapter to the wahrsagenden Geister (scrying ghosts). These are reputed to have been seen by several people, including local dignitaries.

In Islamic alchemy, Takwin (Arabic: تكوين‎) was a goal of certain Muslim alchemists, a notable one being Jābir ibn Hayyān. In the alchemical context, Takwin refers to the artificial creation of life in the laboratory, up to and including human life.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homunculus

See also: http://arcade.stanford.edu/rofl/artificial-men-alchemy-transubstantiation-and-homunculus



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3 thoughts on “Homunculus

  1. Alan Kuykendall April 18, 2017 at 4:29 pm Reply


    The sperm is a brain and central nervous system with major organs.
    The egg, a human body lacking the above.

    Once the sperm coalesces with the spinal column conception begins.

    My memory of conception is perfect. I was looking at my opaque vertebrae as the glowing DNA passed through my central nervous system.
    I saw an image of an infertile human egg taken by a electronic scanning microscope. The instant I saw the image I recognized it and my memory flashed back and I was looking at my spinal column as glowing fluid passed through
    I also knew I was going to be a human.
    Human conception is intelligent. DNA must contain memory.

  2. thesevenminds April 22, 2017 at 2:05 pm Reply

    Alan, you get an A for effort. 😀

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